Kurt Cobain Guitar Method

author: humalogmix date: 04/10/2009 category: guitar techniques

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Nirvana was well-known for using heavy distortion and feedback in their songs and implemented a soft verse, hard chorus dynamic to add to their songs, something that Kurt Cobain acknowledges the Pixies for. Songs such as Smells Like Teen Spirit and Lithium are prime examples of this. The lyrics he used were often cathartic and filled with angst, and seemingly contradictory at times. There is also more depth musically to Kurt's songs than many people realize.

Rhythm



One thing that Kurt used a lot of in his music were rhythms establish by triplet figures.

From the intro of Floyd the Barber:

        |-3-|          |-3-|
Q Q E E E Q Q E E E
e|-------------|--------------|
B|-------------|--------------|
G|-------------|--------------|
D|--3-3--2-2-2-|--3-3--2-2-2--|
A|--3-3--2-2-2-|--3-3--2-2-2--|
E|--1-1--0-0-0-|--1-1--0-0-0--|

As you can see here he establishes rhythm by using two quarter notes and then a eighth note triplet.

And from About a Girl:

             |-3-|
Q Q H E E E
e|--0-0-3----3-3-3----|
B|--0-0-0----0-0-3----|
G|--0-0-0----0-0-0----|
D|--2-2-0----0-0-0----|
A|--2-2-2----2-2-2----|
E|--0-0-3----3-3-3----|

Once again he uses two quarter notes then a half note before an eight note triplet.

One more example, Pennyroyal Tea:

            |--3--|         |--3--|
H Q Q. E E E Q Q. E E E E
e:0------0-----0----|-------0-----0-------|
B:1------1-----1----|-------1-----1-------|
G:2------2-----2----|-------2-----2-------|
D:2---------2-----2-|----2-----2-----2----|
A:0----0------------|-0-------------------|
E:------------------|---------------------|

(I stole this tab from the archive so thank you Unregistered User, whoever you may be.) Again you can see the triplet figure following a quarter note and then a dotted quarter note.

Riffs



Many of Nirvana's riffs are not too complicated, just picking through chords. A great example of this is Heart-Shaped Box.

Heart-Shaped Box: (*Note Drop D)

    A5      F5        D5              A5      F5    
E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E E Q
e|-------------------|--------------------|-------------------|-------------|
B|-------------------|--------------------|-------------------|-------------|
G|------2------------|--------------------|-2-----------------|-------------|
D|----2---2-----3----|------0---0-------2-|---2-----3------2/4|-4-4-4-------|
A|--0---------3---3--|---0----0---0---0---|-------3-----------|-------3-3-3-|
D|----------3--------|-0------------------|-----3-----3--0----|-------------|

Another example (a very basic one) is Something in the Way: (Some people play this in Drop D, but I don't so just go along with it because the point is being made regardless.)

   G#5                 E5             G#5              E5
Q. Q E E E Q. Q E E E Q. Q E E E Q. Q E E E
e|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
B|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
G|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
D|-----------------|-----------------|-----------------|------------------|
A|-----6-----6-----|-----2-----2-----|-----6-----6-----|-----2-----2------|
E|--4-----4-----4--|--0-----0-----0--|--4-----4-----4--|--0-----0-----0---|

Kurt also had a unique, avant-garde method to some of the things he played, like the intro to Milk It.

Milk It:

e|-13--------------12----------6--x-x-x-|-8-----6--------------------------|
B|----12-13----11-----------6-----------|-----5----------8--7--6--5--4-----|
G|-----------10-------------------------|---6--------7------------------5/-|
D|--------------------10----------------|----------8-----------------------|
A|--------------------------------------|----------------------------------|
E|-----------------------6--------------|----------------------------------|

Soloing



Kurt's style of playing uses a lot of feedback for some solos (You Know You're Right, for example has a to of feedback) while others are a little bit more of what one would think your typical guitar solo should sound like (Smells Like Teen Spirit). Often times he'd play what seems to be the the vocal part to add a different dynamic to his songs. In the more musical solos he utilized minor pentatonic scales.

Smells Like Teen Spirit: Key of Fm

e|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|
B|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|
G|-----8--10-----|--8--8b--6--5--|--6--5-----------|-------------|
D|-10---------6--|---------------|--------8--6--8--|--8b--6--5---|
A|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|
E|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|

e|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|
B|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|
G|-----8--10-----|--8--8b--6--5--|--6--5-----------|-------------|
D|-10---------6--|---------------|--------8--6--8--|--8b--6--5---|
A|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|
E|---------------|---------------|-----------------|-------------|

e|-------------|-----------------|--------------|----------------|
B|-------------|-----------------|--------------|----------------|
G|-------------|-----------------|--------------|----------------|
D|-6--5--6--5--|--6--5--6--5-----|--6--5--6--5--|--6--5--6--5----|
A|-------------|--------------8--|--------------|-------------8--|
E|-------------|-----------------|--------------|----------------|
Kurt Cobain has a legacy that will live on for as long as music lives. RIP Kurt. Please rate this highly and comment so I know where and how to improve on any future articles. Thanks!
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